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2015 June 9 - 05:07 am

Commencement 2015

Community Colleges Showcase Rich Diversity


One college graduated a valedictorian who arrived in the country just six years ago. Another awarded three degrees to an 11-year-old boy. Then there was 64-year-old Bob Walters, a retired nurse who earned his 10th credential from Northampton Community College.

Commencement ceremonies at community colleges around the country focused a spotlight on institutions’ rich diversity.. Graduates included the young and the old, veterans and homemakers, immigrants and native-born. They include astonishing stories of accomplishment and perseverance.

Plenty of words have been written about poor graduation and completion rates and demands for greater accountability. But each year, on the cusp of summer, thousands of community college students do graduate. They do complete. They forge diverse paths into the workforce or on to further education.

What follows is a small collection of community college commencement stories, focusing not on the words of invited speakers but on the students themselves. Theirs are stories that won’t be found at Ivy League institutions. They could only happen at community colleges.


TANISHQ ABRAHAM skipped the first grade, completed the second grade and started taking classes at American River College in California at age 7. Last month, at age 11, he earned three degrees, in general science, math and physical science, and foreign language studies, according to the Sacramento Bee. He was by far the college’s youngest student.

“He pretty much breezed through it,” his dad, Bijou Abraham, told the Bee.

Home-schooled since the age of 7, the boy passed a state exam in spring 2014 that certified he had met the academic standards to receive his high school diploma.

“The way my brain works is that when you give me something, information about that topic comes into my mind,” he said last year, after receiving his high school diploma.

He then started taking college classes full time, the newspaper reported.

Still, the family makes sure he isn’t losing out on his childhood, which includes spending time with friends his age.

“He is very social, outgoing. Nothing fazes him,” his dad said.

When he’s not studying or on campus, he enjoys playing video games and swimming.

Most of Tanishq’s college classmates and fellow graduates are, of course, older. But the boy says most are “really glad I’m in their class.”

The boy’s 9-year-old sister, Tiara also takes classes at the college and was recently inducted into an honors society at the Sacramento community college, her father said. Both children have a knack for picking up foreign languages with Tiara studying Spanish and Italian.

Tanishq hopes to attend Stanford University in Palo Alto or a University of California campus to major in biomedical engineering or a related field. He has also talked of his dream of becoming president of the United States.


When JUAN JOSÉ CARRIÓN- ALMEIDA was named the 2015 valedictorian at Berkshire Community college in western Massachusetts, it marked an astonishing rise for a man who did not even speak English just six years prior.

A native of Ecuador, Carrión-Almeida arrived in the United States in 2009, according to a college news release. He began working in the hospitality industry and strived to learn English. After becoming a permanent resident, he began his academic career at BCC in 2013 when he enrolled in the institution’s TRIO Program, a federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While navigating the demands of a fulltime course load, he typically worked 60 hours a week at local businesses to make ends meet. A business administration major, he graduated with high honors.

“Juan has incredible energy, which he always directs toward good ends,” said Frances Feinerman, BCC’s vice president for academic affairs. “He is either studying, working or helping other students — all day, all week. Throughout, he remains upbeat and optimistic.”

Carrión-Almeida has thrived both academically and socially. He is a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society. He has been involved in both the Student Government Association and the Multicultural Student Services Organization. In addition, he was chosen to be a student ambassador, a prominent leadership role for students who are dedicated to serving and representing BCC at campus and community events.

He was also nominated to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Scholar and tutored first-year STEM students and assisted with their transition to college life. During the spring semester he interned in the Accounting & Controls Department at SABIC, a global innovative plastics corporation.

“I’m thrilled to serve as this year’s valedictorian,” he said. “While the last two years have been very challenging, I proved to myself that I could earn a degree despite English being my second language and working long hours. This has motivated me to keep going beyond my own limits. My success at BCC wouldn’t have been possible without the awesome faculty and staff whose goal has always been to teach students to learn.”

Carrión-Almeida will attend the University of Massachusetts’ Isenberg School of Management in the fall.


When ALEXANDER CORONA graduated from San Jacinto College in Texas, he defied his own expectations. He once thought he would work as a laborer to earn a living. But after a judge ordered him to earn his GED diploma after missing too many days in high school, his life took a turn. His time spent pursuing a GED diploma turned into pursuit of an associate degree, a college news release said.

He is now heading to Sam Houston State University with scholarship assistance for his tuition.

“Three or four years ago, I was expecting to go into hard-labor work and turn that into a career,” said Corona. “After coming to San Jacinto College, I realized there’s more out there and that people like me are able to step up to the next level.”

Corona took advantage of the college preparatory courses at San Jacinto College and passed the courses needed to get him to college-level courses. He became president of Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education (TACHE) and committee chair of the student government association. He even found an enjoyment for mathematics after taking an Acceleration in Mathematics (AIM) course with Professor Tammi Rice.

“In high school, I didn’t know that I liked school yet,” said Corona. “Tammi Rice pushed me to strive and to better myself.”


BOB WALTERS of Palmer Township, Pa., has earned so many college degrees he couldn’t hang them all on one wall, according to the Associated Press.

Last month, he graduated with his 10th credential from Northampton Community College.

But the retired nurse is far from finished with his schooling.

He’s been admitted to Moravian College’s master’s of business administration program.

In addition to his 10 NCC degrees and certificates, Walters has earned a bachelor’s of psychology and chemistry from Moravian, a master’s in special education from Millersville University and a law degree from Widener University.

He doesn’t earn the degrees for recognition or a pay boost. He just enjoys learning.

“I enjoy intellectual stimulation,” Walters said, adding many folks don’t understand his motivation. “That is really sort of my hobby, taking courses. People ask me how I have the time for it.”

Years ago, Walters read a study that equated time spent in front of the television with life satisfaction: the more time in front of the tube, the less satisfied people reported being.

“I decided to cut way back on television,” Walters said. “I probably watch two hours of TV a week, so I have all that time to do other things. It is amazing; it frees up a lot of time.”

He’s fascinated by computers, electronics, technology and financial investments.

His most recent degree is an associate in computer science.

Walters has never wanted to just hone in on one subject area. He thinks he’d tire of just studying one topic in-depth.

With all of his degrees, Walters doesn’t have a “dollar of student debt.”

Walters has completed an accounting certificate and associate degrees in electronics, optoelectronics, information technology, chemical technology, electronics technology, optical electronics technology and welding.

Walters is a vocal advocate of community colleges and vocational education. The affordability of NCC has allowed him to keep expanding his horizons.

He admits not everyone would have the discipline or intellect to pursue so many degrees and certificates. But anyone could complete one program. He encourages folks to remain open to career programs.

“And doing even one of them could be a tremendous boost to your career,” Walters said. “I think community colleges are a really good thing.”

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